- Civil Militia: Africa's Intractable Security Menace?
Civil Militia draws in the reader because its dozen contributing authors are nearly all well-placed African scholars. It is a useful addition to a still relatively small library of edited works by African specialists reflecting collectively on a fundamental issue confronting their home region and countries. The editor, David Francis, has done the study of state-rending conflict in Africa an important service in bringing this perspective to bear on a fundamentally important topic. In addition to three overview chapters, the volume includes essays on the phenomena, problems, and portents of militias in countries deeply rent and weakened by armed strife: Cameroon, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Uganda. It also includes regional perspectives on militias in the Great Lakes, the Horn of Africa, and West Africa.
A central contribution of the volume is the distinction between first- and second-generation militias. The former are citizens who perform occasional obligatory military service, centered on the defense of their governments or communities, who are organized, trained, disciplined, and uniformed in ways analogous to regular professional armies. They are mobilized for short periods of time, and are mobilizable promptly at the call of their commanding officers. Importantly, they were, and are, constituted at the behest of states, and are subject to regulation by them. They have not been constituted to undermine or compete with a state's regular, professional armed forces. While retaining some characteristics analogous to those of first-generation militias, second-generation militias are more specific to the contexts presented by "conflict-prone, war-torn, post-conflict or transition societies and, in general, weak and failed states" (p. 2). These militias are more diverse along any of several dimensions, including the marginalized, [End Page 114] who may be unemployed and/or generally disaffected members of the polity. Such militias typically lack any constitutional or legal foundation, even though they may be state-sponsored; they are frequently organized along definably subnational characteristics (e.g., ethnicity); and they often lack formal or even substantial training. Though normatively oriented toward securing some public good, as are the first-generation militias, they may be more susceptible to manipulation toward the pursuit of private interests. The effect of the proliferation of second-generation militias is the emergence of more "pluralistic conceptions of state and security" (3).
Central to the phenomenon of second-generation militias, in the contributors' view, are the distinctive circumstances of postcolonial African states vis-à-vis the older states of Europe. Among these, authors focus on external pressure, which forced African states to telescope their establishment and consolidation in a few decades, whereas today's stronger states became established and consolidated at a more leisurely pace and with less concentrated external pressure. "It could be argued," says Francis, "that the present malleability, disequilibrium, collapse and fragmented nature of the state system is [sic] partly the result of the enforced process of state formation in Africa" (p. 9). To these pressures must be added the well-recognized domestic demands for political participation and economic progress. The authors imply that the prebendalism and neopatrimonialism widely observed and evident in the continent has primarily been a product of these vectors. The contributors' analysis opens up but does not pursue a potentially important possible line of analysis. A lurking hypothesis is that the pervasive intrastate conflict afflicting contemporary Africa is a function not only of the weaknesses inherent in prebendalism, but of external assistance, and that the only path of reconstruction is therefore restoration of the state as we, and they, have known it.
Civil Militia generally conceives of militias as a consequence of state decay: "Prebendal underdevelopment and the politics of decline," asserts Francis, "have contributed to the emergence of civil militias, in that, because of the loss of confidence and trust in the ability of the state to provide security and welfare and to defend its citizens, the civilian populace resort to self-help mechanisms to defend and protect themselves"(p. 15). Here, security means not just military security, but comprehensive political, economic...